"Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix" is the fifth installment of the hugely popular fantasy series and is also the first directed by David Yates, who is currently also helming the sixth installment "Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince". It sure is fascinating watching these characters grow up and the adventures they go through also seem to get more and more intense as the series progresses. It is also, obviously one of the most highly anticipated high definition events since the new formats sprang upon us more than a year ago. Expectations are high for this series in 1080p, as well they should be, and you'll be happy to know that Warner Brothers has really gone out of their way to bring us Harry Potter's world like never before, and has also added some intriguing bonus features available exclusively on HD-DVD.
Our young wizard in training, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), has had seen better days as the film opens. For starters, he is on summer vacation and misses his friends Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) not to mention wants to get back to a far more fascinating and magical world than the one he inhabits living with Uncle Vernon and his wife and of course Dudley (Harry Melling). While Harry and Dudley are leaving a playground after Harry holds his wand to Dudley's throat in a threatening manner because of some teasing by Dudley and then some menacing clouds move in. They retreat into a tunnel after the ominous thunderstorm approaches and are attacked by a couple of truly sinister looking spirit like creatures known as Dementors. Somehow during the struggle, as the Dementors are sucking the life out of them, Harry breaks free and uses his wand to fend them off, but Dudley is certainly in bad shape.
After bringing him home seemingly on the brink of death, Uncle Vernon is convinced Harry was responsible for the entire incident. And not long after Harry receives a letter from the Ministry Of Magic informing him he is expelled from Hogwarts for using magic in front of a Muggle. Growing up is never easy, but it seems to be particularly hard for Harry, and nothing is turning out the way he wants it.
But soon Harry is rescued from the world of the bland and the ordinary and whisked off once again into a night of magic after he joins five wizards led by Nymphadora Tonks (Natalia Tina) who he rides off into the night with. They take him to a mysterious and fantastic house where he is finally reunited with Serious Black and his two friends Hermione and Ron, and he is happier than ever to see them since they have basically been told to avoid him by Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) himself.
Harry is exonerated at trial and therefore gets to attend Hogwarts once again for year five of his training. The Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy) does not believe Harry's story about the Dementors and believes that Albus Dumbeldore's (Michael Gambon) story about the Dark Lord Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes) return is actually a move to undermine his authority and take his job. Not long after, a Fudge supporter, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) arrives at Hogwarts as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor. She changes the rules, one of which is to not even provide the students with any kind of magical defensive training techniques, so it will be up to Harry, Hermione and a Ron, who form "Dumbledore's Army" to combat the ultimate evil that lies before them. And what a battle it will be, probably the most intense and action packed one yet, this is a battle for the ages, and not everyone gets out alive this time.
Anyway, the film is just as great as the others, I don't discriminate against or for any of them, I simply love the series as a whole and have the utmost respect for the entire series. I'm also lucky because I have never read any of the JK Rowling books (which I'm sure are wonderful) because that means every film is a new and wonderful discovery for me.
Now onto the video portion of the review, and you will all be pleased to read that this is simply one of the most outstanding and flawless looking transfers I have ever seen on my television. Framed at 2.4:1 in 1080p. From the opening shots I was simply stunned at not just the level of detail, but the perfect black levels. As we all know, this series has some darker scenes, and some of those suffered in standard definition, but in this version every detail of a candlelit room is perfectly visible, not to mention the several different levels of blacks and grays used during a dark scene. The colors are also dead on. And for a fantasy film to look this utterly real is simply amazing. I have seen many high def transfers at this point, and just when I think it can't get any better a title like "Harry Potter" comes along and just utterly takes my breath away with it's three dimensional clarity and flawless yet film like texture. I simply can't wait to purchase the box set with all five of the films, I am so excited. This is just how these films should look. You will be blown away, this is as good as it gets.
And the audio perfectly matches the flawless picture. Presented in Dolby TrueHD, we have a film that utilizes the surround field very aggressively and very effectively from beginning to end. The subwoofer response is very noticeable during the many action scenes and every single magical Harry Potter sound effect comes across superbly. Everything about this disc is demo worthy and one you can bring out to show off the system to your friends. The music and voices come through clean and very audible at all times, and I was very impressed with not just the clarity but the amazing uses of sound texture and sonic dimensions during the more magical battle scenes, not to mention the subtle uses like when Harry uses his wand at the beginning. Like "Star Wars" and some other notable series, the Harry Potter films have developed their own instantly recognizable sound field and effects and I have never heard them in such clarity.
"Trailing Tonks" is a tour of the film set by actress Natalia Tina and is actually a lot of fun. It is in standard definition and runs about 20 minutes.
"Deleted Scenes" is really just 10 minutes of outtakes and such that is really not that interesting.
"The Magic Of Editing" is an interactive feature that actually lets you edit the sound and picture from the movie.
As for high definition extras we have an "In Movie Experience" which is HD-DVD exclusive (of course) and is really quite interesting. I've grown somewhat fond of this feature when it is done right, and this one is a lot of fun. We have the actor's and actresses appear in a little box in the corner of the screen and it's not just their talking heads it shows special effects sequences and is very cool and actually very informative. These sequences can also be watched separately in a feature called "Focus Points" which runs about an hour (if you access all of them at once) but is also happily in full high definition!
And of course this is a combo release so we have the DVD side available as an added bonus.
As for the web enabled special features, you will probably want to do the latest firmware upgrade 2.7/2T32 if you are going to play around with some of these exciting new web enabled features that are exclusive to HD-DVD. Theses features were unavailable at the time of this writing but after this disc comes out next week, perhaps I can update this review, because they sound fascinating.
"Purchase Mobile Downloads" allows you to buy ringtones and wallpaper for your phone exclusively via the disc and the Ethernet function.
"Pick Your Favorite Scenes" allows you to share your favorite scenes with friends through your internet connected players. Maybe not that useful, but I like the sound of it, and the future seems bright for something like this.
"Live Community Screening" is easily the most interesting one I've heard of yet, the host controls the players of his friends (pausing and such) and you can also communicate with the remote via a text messaging feature. Now, this is really something different, I'm just not sure how usable it will be, I'll try it out next week when this film is released to the masses. Of course I annoy people enough doing this in my own living room let alone talking them into letting me do it in Seattle and Memphis, but we'll see.
Boasting an impressive amount of groundbreaking online features and a simply wonderful presentation, this HD-DVD Combo is one of the best ones out there and this is truly a wonderful event for fans of the film, I was thrilled to experience it and can't wait to see the other films out there. Warner Brothers has really outdone themselves with this release.